I guess Milo Manara really likes this pose

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Much ado is being of Milo Manara’s artwork for the new Spider-Woman:

milo spider woman

 

Bootylicious isn’t she? Almost like she’s preparing for some doggy-style lovin’. I guess invariably strapless, body-clinging spandex isn’t illogical enough for female superheroes. We’re getting down to full on nudity with just a layer of body-paint separating our crimefighters from the bad guys.

I didn’t know anything about Milo Manara before this, and it turns out he’s an erotic illustrator of some note, in addition to being among the original artists to work on Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja. After an image search, I can se why his work is so popular–it’s really beautiful and sensual. But when I stumbled upon this image, I was a little unsettled:

milo penthouse

 

It looks like he did the art for the cover of the November 1996 issue of Penthouse Comix. Also quite bootylicious, also like she’s ready for some doggy-style lovin’.

Before I go on, I want to make clear that I’m hardly a prude. I’m aware that there are plenty of artists who have done work in both the erotic world and in children’s books.  And when I was struck by the similarity of the pose to the Spider-Woman art, I couldn’t resist sharing. If I do have a problem it’s that Spider-Woman is intended to be read by people of all ages–who wants to be stuck explaining the doggy position to a nine year-old? Perhaps perched on that big building, she’s enjoying a nice breeze around her privates.

I’m probably more amused by the irony than anything. This whole thing reminds me of a joke on the Simpsons, where a character clearly based on Maurice Sendak explains that he got into writing and illustrating children’s books after Playboy kept rejecting his comics for being too dirty.

Also, I’d love to see Manara’s version of the Kama Sutra, if it exists.

Referenced by The Comics Journal and Splice Today.

The Safety of Writing About Women

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     For the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a certain kind of story that seems to bubble up at least once a month: a woman says something in public (whether vocally or in print), and gets attacked by roving gangs of cybermobs.  There seems to be no shortage of stories of women who write about stuff…things…anything…to eventually be plagued by threats of rape and/or death, bomb threats, having their personal business hacked, their personal addresses published. If they have children, they may be targeted as well. Of course, she doesn’t have to just write things on the Internet. She just may speak in public, voicing her thoughts and opinions. It’s like there’s some list being kept somewhere by a clandestine organization, and they’re just checking off women who are small-scale public figures, one-by-one: Lindy West. Zerlina Maxwell. Laurie Penny. Caroline Criado-Perez. Anita Sarkeesian. Mary Beard. Linda Grant. Kathy Sierra. Rebecca Watson. Jenna Myers Karvunidis. Heidi Yewman. Adria Richards. Rebecca Meredith.
     Most, if not all, of the women I just mentioned do work under the heading of “feminist writer/activist/blogger, etc,” which seems to bring out a very particular kind of troll. There’s respectfully disagreeing with someone’s thoughts on life, and then there’s wishing them dead. And then there’s wishing them raped. But the real purpose of it all, as Kelly Diels lays out:
 “…[are] attacks are explicitly designed not only to silence you, but also to embarrass you, scare you, harass you, get government agencies to investigate you, vandalize your property, make you move, get you fired, ruin your life.”
     As I said, most of the previously mentioned women do their work under the heading of “feminism.” This made me curious as to whether this applied to only women who write about feminism, so I sought out some men who also consider themselves feminist, or are at least comfortable enough in their masculinity to take the women’s side from time to time. So I sent out some questions…
  • As a man who writes about feminism or competently writes about women like they’re your fellow humans, have you ever been physically threatened?
  • Have the threats ever reached a point where you believed that your own personal safety, and/or that of your family, was in jeopardy?
  • Have you ever had to deal with any serious breaches of personal security (personal info hacked and posted, etc)?
  • Have you ever shied away from saying anything out of fear of what the response might be?
     I contacted freelance writer Noah Berlatsky on the strength of his Slate piece, “All the Selfish Reasons to Be a Male Feminist.” Based on my questions, he seemed to immediately know where I was going, and said that although he’s never been outright threatened, he does get some hate mail from people who don’t like his reviews. The worse of it culminated in regard to a negative review he gave an Art Spiegelman book, which Berlatsky described as, “…vague wishes that my family would be harmed.” But he closed by noting that
“I think guys can be bullied and face threats online. It does seem like women are especially targeted for this kind of thing…”
     In chatting with feminist blogger Charles Clymer, he said,
“Do I get hate mail? Yes. Have I gotten at least one random phone call from a ranting MRA? Yes. Do I feel harassed? Yes. But I have never had to deal with a fraction of the abuse and vitriol women in this field endure for their advocacy. I’m in awe of their resilience.”
     Blogger and active-duty Army officer Kevin Hanrahan shared similar experiences in receiving nasty comments and Twitter threats, and solved the problem by just blocking people he described as “nasty, slanderous, or outright ignorant.”
     Ultimately, all three men said that the threats or hate mail never reached a point where they genuinely believed their lives were in danger, or those of their immediate family. No breaches of personal security or hacking, no indication that they felt they had to shy away from expressing certain ideas out of fear of greater retaliation.
While I had hoped to hear from a few more guys, I think this is enough to satiate my curiosity on the question of whether or the topic or messenger were bringing in the threats. Based on Berlastsky’s and Clymer’s statements, I’ve come to the conclusion that the gender of the messenger is usually a bigger deal than the message. However, it’s worth noting that in Hanrahan’s case, it was his series supporting women in combat that brought out the haters.
In a 2011 piece in the Guardian, Catholic blogger and vicar’s wife Caroline Farrow, who is described as having little in common with feminists like Laurie Penny, decried her situation as,
“… for some men this seems to make you a legitimate sexual target. I get at least five sexually threatening emails a day.”
     I also find it kind of weird just how mundane the writings and activities of some of these women are to inspire the threats. Anita Sarkeesian made some YouTube videos about video games and Caroline Criado-Perez successfully campaigned to keep women on British money, resulting in Jane Austen’s face being plastered on the back of the Bank of England’s ten pound note. Rebecca Meredith participated in a debate, as part of her debate team, at her university. And yet, the threats themselves are hardly mundane. While I can easily say that Sarkeesian’s and Criado-Perez’s work was definitely feminist-inspired, how then, to explain Farrow’s situation? And are there more like her out there?
     And my answer is: I really don’t know. I wish I did.
     I decided to track down some conservative women bloggers and writers, and I never got an answer from any of them. So I made a couple of posts that look like cattle calls, and still, nothing. A friend of mine suggested that conservative women might think I’m baiting them somehow, or trying to set them up for an ambush, and after thinking it over, I think he may have a good point. To start with, partisan politics have reached such an insane level of, well, insanity, I can see where it’s reasonable to distrust outsiders. If I was asked the same of a conservative blogger, regardless of gender, I’m not entirely sure what my response would be.
     But I also kept thinking something else: Is is something I’ve said?
     On the blog, I’ve expressed my permissive views on gay rights and abortion, and I agreed with Dan Savage that the Bible is loaded with bullshit (especially in regard to slavery, women, and gays), and wondered aloud where Donald Rumsfeld keeps his fucking brains. I’ve also been told I have a mouth like a sailor, to which I can honestly say, there were a lot of ex-sailors in culinary school, and they may have schooled me in the delicate art of letting the expletives fly. I’ve also been told I have a wicked arrogant streak and an attitude problem. And those are things that have been said by people who love me. So, was it something I’ve said? Or how I said it? It probably didn’t help my case. But I think I may have been overly optimistic. For each group, I sent out a dozen or so emails and messages, and while I only heard back from three guys, I found them all very interesting, and am now proud to count them among my Internet buds. I expected a similar thing from the women.
     With all that in mind, I still feel unsettled by the lack of response, and here’s why: I can’t escape the feeling that there’s probably some very similar threats being directed at conservative women. As much as I don’t agree with them, that doesn’t mean that I want to see them silenced by rape threats, death threats, and just being hounded into oblivion by Internet trolls. Freedom of speech still applies to speech we don’t agree with, and it does not apply to threats to one’s personal safety. The fact that we may have crossed a threshold where women, of all political stripes, are more afraid of speaking honestly than the trolls are of threatening women.
     So, who are the trolls? There’s no good way to answer that. I mean, I’m sure there’s ways for them to be found, but then I worry that they might follow me home. Only puppies get to do that.
     Naturally, I couldn’t help wondering who these guys are that do this trolling, and what their motivation is. Then it hit me: they hate women. Strangely, some of the threats almost seem culled from David Wong’s article on Cracked: “5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women.” Enough threats are centered around attacking a woman’s appearance that it does indeed seem as though the trolls feel cheated out their hot chick, or they can’t understand why their decorative piece of potential trophy wife is talking–using big words, even. Perhaps some of these trolls are angry because sometimes women are, amazingly enough, smart and pretty, have a healthy sense of self, and say things they don’t agree with, and so they suffer some kind of boner confusion resulting in…what? blue balls? headaches? nose-bleeds?

     But it’s points #2 and #1 where I think Wong really nails what’s going on in their minds: they believe they’ve been cheated out of “true” manhood, and they feel powerless. The point of feeling cheated on “true” manhood is especially interesting:

“A once-great world of heroes and strength and warriors and cigars and crude jokes has been replaced by this world of grumpy female supervisors looming over our cubicle to hand us a memo about sending off-color jokes via email. Yes, that entire narrative is a grossly skewed and self-serving version of how society actually evolved. It doesn’t matter.”

     Here’s why I find that so interesting: what I think Wong is getting at is that some contemporary men seem to mourning their loss of dominion over women. That men are supposed to be the heroes of all stories all the time, and women, at best, are sidekicks. The trolls see themselves as Batman in a world where Batgirl is in charge. But this begged another question: Why would the trolls see the world this way?
Perhaps their motivation for hating women are more individual than Wong describes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not buying into some kind of fantasy of times past, where women were compliant and content to care for the house while their husbands were the breadwinners and little kings in their little castles. The pre-Women’s Movement reality for my own grandmothers were quite different. Neither of my grandmothers had an education past grammar school, and both were single mothers, one through divorce, the other through being widowed very young. While they worked whatever jobs they could find, it was still very much a Mad Men world where, as John Oliver described it, a woman’s Christmas bonus could easily come in the form of a slap on the ass. (It’s insane how much my mother loved that joke.)
There’s a rather famous quote from Gloria Steinem, that since that time, we’re raising our daughters more like our sons, but we’re not raising our sons more like our daughters. I don’t know that raising our sons more like our daughters is really the answer as much as we have just got to stop lying to our sons about what to expect from women. We have to stop raising them with these insane expectations of sexually compliant women who are more than happy to make their sandwiches and clean their bongs while the guys play video games, and look totally fabulous while doing it, because those women don’t exist.
The other point in Wong’s article that I think relates is “We Feel Powerless.” As a woman, I find his argument difficult to digest–if only because the rights of women don’t have the constitutional protections in the way most people think–and yet I think there’s something to it. Wong explains it like this:
“So where you see a world in which males dominate the boards of the Fortune 500, and own Congress, and sit at the head of all but a handful of the world’s nations, men see themselves as utterly helpless. Because all of those powerful people only became powerful because they heard that women like power.”
     So men who aren’t CEOs or Congressmen feel powerless–I get that but, and I know this isn’t Wong’s intent, it does sound like the sort of excuse misogynist would use to harass, abuse, and stalk women.
In a recent post, Rebecca Watson talks about dealing with law enforcement to help with online threats. She eventually hires a private detective who finds that one stalker who has been giving her an especially hard time has had a prior arrest for domestic violence. Perhaps if we were to look deeper into the personal histories of the trolls and stalkers who have plagued the women I’ve mentioned, we might see similar patterns of behavior, but really, I have no way of knowing.. I am sort of amazed at how often I see screen-pulls, and these guys are often posting under their own names, and use their own pictures of themselves. Like I said, the trolls are less afraid of being exposed than women are for speaking their minds.
I mentioned that men are still raised with unreasonable expectations of women, and I do think that by the same turn, men are still raised with unreasonable expectations of grandeur. They still grow up expecting to always be the heroes of every story that they’re in, and the reality is that most of us will never achieve that. The best most of us can hope for is to just be interesting. And respectful.

@VABVOX, Can I be a straight feminist gal and still care about lesbians? Of course I can.

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I was just reading Victoria A. Brownworth’s newest Huffington Post piece, “Why Do Straight Feminists Hate Lesbians?” and I wanted to send off a Tweet, but then I realized that what I wanted say could not be crammed into 140 characters.

In reading through the comments, there were a lot of indignant women who said that they were feminists who said they supported the LBGTQ community and gay rights and the whole enchilada. Which kind of proves Brownworth’s point: these straight feminists support lesbians as members of the gay community, not as fellow women. To make the point more directly, these self-proclaimed straight feminists who support the LGBTQ community are “othering” lesbians right to Brownworth’s face.

Perhaps they took umbrage at the title–hate is an awfully strong word. Would fear have been more appropriate or accurate? Probably, but since fear is a prelude to hatred, I don’t Brownworth was out of line. But I do want to talk about fear.

Why should straight feminists be afraid of lesbians? Because straight women still want to be attractive to men, and in doing so, they also want to make feminism less threatening to men. So, Brownworth was spot-on when she called my fellow straight feminists and myself for saying shit like, “I’m a feminist, but…” I’m sure I’m guilty of at some point saying that, even if I can’t remember it off the top of my head just now. But the point I want to make is that these women are being naïve; there are men who embrace feminism, and there are men who view feminism as threat, and guys who land somewhere in between. The guys that view feminism as threat will not be persuaded by lame attempts at sugarcoating, so why are we bothering? Because as straight women, we still buy into antiquated notions of man-pleasing.

Brownworth also makes a good point that contemporary feminism has been mired in single-issue politics with an emphasis on how they relate more directly to straight women–namely abortion, but I’ll throw contraception in there for good measure. However, I think it’s because the ascendance of the Tea Party has made attacks on abortion and contraception access a policy priority. With that, I can see where the needs of lesbians have, at best, become an afterthought.

There is something else I’ve noticed before, and it’s this: our cultural frame of reference for lesbians is painfully narrow, and our social support system for them is woefully undernourished. Here in Chicago, our big gay neighborhood is called “Boy’s Town.” It’s a big city, I know there’s lesbians out there–I’ve gone to school with them and I’ve worked with them. So where’s Lesbianvillle, USA? For the most part, when we take about supporting the LGBT community, we’re talking about gay men. Let’s face it, gay men are still men, and we still live in a society where being able to pee standing up means you get to rule the world. In the bigger context of TV and movies, lesbians are relegated to being objects of fetish (if attractive) or ridicule (if unattractive).

Perhaps I’m more sympathetic to what Brownworth has to say because of what I’ve witnessed: I worked with a young bisexual woman a few years ago who was in relationship with a woman. Some guys at work were hassling her, and it was just like Brownworth described: You need a real man, etc. I did tell the woman I worked with that if she wanted to report anything, I’d have her back, but she didn’t want to, and I never said anything because I felt I would have betrayed her trust. Also, by her own account, even outside work, I got the impression that she and her girlfriend couldn’t even go out for coffee without someone shooting their mouth off. (Really, why do so many straights just need to know who the is “man” and the “woman” in gay relationships?) Also, when I was first discovering feminism, some of the first things I read were by Camille Paglia and Andrea Juno. While Paglia certainly has her own eccentric views of feminism, she really did open my eyes to the broader scope of sexuality. Juno’s Angry Women series, where she interviewed female authors, artists, and musicians was, for me, a more direct introduction to lesbian culture. The gay and bisexual women that Juno interviewed all seemed to have these stories about being harassed and/or assaulted for their orientation. On the flipside though, they also had these amazing stories of coming together and looking out for each other.

To me, that’s what really makes feminism interesting: women looking out for each other. And damn it, lesbians are women too.

Helen Keller, angry letter-writer

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helen keller

This is the rough draft of a letter that Helen Keller wrote to the Student body of Germany when the Nazis order the burning of her book, How I Became a Socialist. (With a title like that, I would imagine there’s some present day turds who would also want to burn it.) The letter is stored in the Helen Keller Archival collection at the American Foundation for the Blind.

What’s so fascinating about this is that, probably because of the film, the Miracle Worker, we think of Keller as a kind of passive entity. The reality is that she was a ball-busting bad-ass.

If the letter is difficult to read, here’s the transcription:

May 9, 1933


To the Student Body of Germany


History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.
You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels, and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of my books to the soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people.
Do not imagine your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. God sleepeth not, and He will visit His Judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung round your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.


Helen Keller

American Foundation for the Blind: Helen Keller’s Words…Still Powerful 80 Years Later http://www.afb.org/blog.aspx?BlogID=7&BlogEntryID=723

A failure of leadership

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unwanted sexual contact

 

Today on MSNBC’s Meet the Press, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was on to shill his new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life. David Gregory1 began the interview by asking Rumsfeld about the military sexual assault problem, and the exchange went like this:

 

David Gregory: I want to ask you about a very disturbing subject within the military that you’ve worked over for so long, and that is sexual assaults in the military. Some of the reported cases when you were secretary and reported and estimates, a much larger number and the alarming rise between 2010 and 2012. And the issue at hand here is: What should the military do about it? Does it have to change the way these crimes are reported at the chain of command and go outside of that to a special prosecutor? What would you do?

Donald Rumsfeld: I don’t know that a special prosecutor is the answer, but there is an argument that can be made for handling them in a way different than they’re being handled because they’re serious. And I would suspect that an awful lot of them don’t even get reported. That’s probably true in the private sector, private citizens as well as in the military. But it’s a terrible thing. There has to be zero tolerance. And it appears that something different is going to have to be done, and I wish I knew what the answer was. I don’t. People simply have to not tolerate it.

David Gregory: What about the culture in the military? Is that a major part of contributing to it?

Donald Rumsfeld: People talk about that, and about athletic teams and male environments. I don’t know the answer to that. There’s certainly nothing about the military that would contribute to it in terms of the purpose of the armed forces. But I don’t know the answer and I think they better really land all over people that are engaged in any kind of abuse of that nature.

 

I was impressed by Rumsfeld’s candor, but for all the wrong reasons, and one right reason. The one right reason I was impressed is because when someone doesn’t know something, I would much rather hear them say, “I don’t know,” rather than try to bullshit their way out of it. Overall, that was his answer to questions about the ongoing problem of sexual assault in the military: I don’t know.

However, that’s also where it starts to get impressive for the wrong reasons. Rumsfeld is a former Naval Officer, Congressman, NATO Ambassador, and Secretary of Defense. If he doesn’t know, then who the fuck does know? If, for all of his accomplishments and credentials, he cannot figure out a solution to the problem of military sexual assault, then he needs to shut up and go home. Stop writing books about leadership, because he doesn’t know how to lead. If he cannot understand the persistent threat plaguing a significant proportion of the military population, he cannot call himself an expert on leadership when he so blatantly failed the very people he was supposed to lead. This was not a new problem when Rumsfeld assumed office in 2001 (Tailhook2 and Aberdeen3 had already happened), and it’s not a new problem now.

In the last two weeks, three people who were supposed to lead the fight against sexual assault in the military4, 5, 6 have all been arrested for varying degrees of sexual misconduct. An Air Force pilot who was convicted in a jury courts-marshal7 of sexual misconduct had his conviction overturned by a superior officer and continues to serve at full rank and pay. And the stories just go on and on, all of them just as alternately heartbreaking and angering. By just looking at the numbers, the Pentagon’s own survey estimates that there are 70 assaults8 a day. This is, at best, an exhibition of incompetent leadership, and at worst, and abdication of leadership.

In the research I have been doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem of sexual violence has gone on for so long because it was never seen as a problem until the civilian world told them it was. In the military view, if someone was assaulted, it was their fault for being weak; and if they reported it, it was their fault for being a whiner. And weak whiners have to be disposed of in order to maintain a strong, well-structured military9.

I know I’m oversimplifying to an absurd degree, but until this problem is solved, I will continue to return to this topic. There is simply no excuse for a failure of this magnitude, our service members deserve better. To give an idea of just how bad the problem is I’ll end with this: I was reading an article of female Syrian refugees10 recently. In the camps, there’s no light at night, so they fear for their personal safety if they have to use the bathrooms. Back in 2007, I read11 the exact same thing about our female troops in Iraq.

 

military assault

 

  1. MSNBC: Meet the Press http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3032608/vp/51932144#51932144
  2. New York Times: Revisiting the Military’s Tailhook Scandal http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/booming/revisiting-the-militarys-tailhook-scandal-video.html?_r=0
  3. Re: Aberdeen http://www.amazon.com/GAMe-Unraveling-Military-Sex-Scandal/dp/1592989969/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369004238&sr=1-1&keywords=the+game+aberdeen
  4. The Daily Beast: Air Force General Blames Increase in Military Rape on Hookup Culture http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/08/air-force-general-blames-increase-in-military-rape-on-hookup-culture.html
  5. USA Today: Suspect in Fort Hood prostitution ring identified http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/15/mcqueen-suspect-fort-hood-prostitution-ring/2163045/
  6. USA Today: Fort Campbell sexual harassment manager arrested http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/16/fort-campbell-sexual-harassment-manager-arrested/2182437/
  7. CNN Security Clearance: General defends court martial reversal in sex assault case http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/11/general-defends-court-martial-reversal-in-sex-assault-case/
  8. Raw Story: Pentagon survey: More than 70 military sexual assaults occur per day http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/05/07/pentagon-survey-more-than-70-military-sexual-assaults-occur-per-day/
  9. My San Antonio: In the military, sex assault victims labeled mentally ill and drummed out http://www.mysanantonio.com/default/article/In-the-military-sex-assault-victims-labeled-as-4526251.php
  10. RH Reality Check: Stoking Fire: Addressing the Specific Needs of Female Refugees http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/05/17/stoking-fire-addressing-the-specific-needs-of-female-syrian-refugees/
  11. Salon: The private war of women soldiers http://www.salon.com/2007/03/07/women_in_military/